The outcome of the UK general election on December 12 is almost impossible to predict.
Brexit is breaking down Britons’ traditional allegiances to political parties as increasing numbers of voters make their choices based on whether they supported Leave or Remain in the 2016 EU referendum – and innovative forms of campaigning on social media also ensure the election is hard to decipher.
Prime minister Boris Johnson sought the election because he wants a parliamentary majority to get his Brexit deal with the EU approved by MPs, and his Conservative party enters the campaign following parliament’s dissolution on Wednesday with a 10-point lead in opinion polls over Labour. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has expressed confidence he can close the gap on the Tories, and is fighting on the most left-wing policy programme in a generation.
Moreover, this will not be a straightforward two-horse race. The resurgent Liberal Democrats, led by Jo Swinson with a signature policy of opposing Brexit, and Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, which favours a clean break with the EU, are threatening to squeeze both the main parties in marginal seats.
The contest will be played out across a series of electoral battlefields with very different features, and the outcome of the poll could have big repercussions for the future of the UK.
In Scotland, the Scottish National party is aiming to secure additional seats at Westminster, which would strengthen its hand in seeking another independence referendum. The face-off between nationalist and unionist parties in Northern Ireland could boost the cause of a united Ireland.
But the most fiercely contested seats are expected to be in England, where tactical voting could have a big role.
The Conservatives are targeting Labour constituencies in northern England, the Midlands and Wales that voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum. The Liberal Democrats and Labour are eyeing Tory seats – often in southern England – that voted Remain in the referendum.
The results in these English constituencies will be critical in deciding which party secures a Commons majority – or whether the UK ends up with another hung parliament.
Explore the UK’s election battlegrounds and find out which constituencies will likely have a big influence on which party can form the next government.
The Scottish National party is the dominant political force north of the border, leading the Scottish government in Edinburgh, and it is hoping to increase its 35 seats at Westminster by taking constituencies off the Conservatives, Labour, and possibly the Liberal Democrats.
The Tory seat of Stirling, for example, has a majority of just 148 votes over the SNP. The Scottish Conservatives are reeling from the August decision by Ruth Davidson, their popular leader, to step down.
Scottish Labour, which for decades had a stranglehold on Scotland, is also struggling to make an impact and could find it hard to regain constituencies it once held such as Glasgow South West, now an SNP seat.
Many of Scotland’s constituencies will involve highly competitive three-way fights between the SNP, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. For example, the Lib Dems hope to take Fife North East, where the SNP has a majority of just two votes.
Lib Dem margin: <0.01
Con margin: 8.7
Con margin: <0.1
Northern England and the Midlands
Mr Johnson’s route to a Commons majority is heavily focused on his so-called northern strategy. This involves seizing Leave-supporting seats from Labour that the opposition party has held for a long time in northern England, as well as equivalent constituencies in the Midlands, and some in Wales.
Seats broadly fitting this profile include Barrow and Furness, Bishop Auckland, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Dudley North.
However, the loyalty of Labour voters should not be underestimated. In many of the Labour seats that the Conservatives are targeting Mr Corbyn hopes that his party’s radical vision for reforming Britain will appeal to people who feel they have been left behind since the financial crisis.
Con margin: <0.1
Con margin: <0.1
Labour has secured the most Westminster seats of any party in Wales for almost a century, but the party’s position is coming under increasing pressure, partly because it has run the Welsh government in Cardiff since its inception in 1999.
Mr Johnson is aiming to take some Welsh constituencies off Mr Corbyn. Target seats for the Tories that are held by Labour include the Vale of Clwyd, although the Conservatives also risk losing some of their constituencies, such as Preseli Pembrokeshire and Aberconwy, to Mr Corbyn’s party.
One significant factor in Wales is likely to be whether the Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid Cymru, which all oppose Brexit, agree an electoral pact in which one Remain party gets a clear run at certain seats, with the others stepping aside.
This could involve some tricky negotiations, given the Plaid-held seat of Ceredigion is a target for the Lib Dems.
Lib Dem margin: 0.3
Lab margin: 9.1
Lab margin: 0.3
Labour usurped the Conservatives to hold the most constituencies in London when Tony Blair won the 1997 election, and at the 2017 poll Mr Corbyn’s party secured more than 50 per cent of the vote in the capital for the first time since the 1950s.
Labour will hope to take more constituencies off the Tories in the December election, together with the Lib Dems, partly by playing on how the capital voted Remain in the EU referendum.
For example, Labour will aim to seize Chipping Barnet. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, will be targeting Richmond Park, and other seats including Finchley and Golders Green and the Cities of Westminster and London.
The Conservatives are hoping to win back the traditionally Tory seat of Kensington that Labour took at the 2017 election.
Con margin: <0.1
Lib Dem margin: <0.1
Southern England is a stronghold for the Conservatives, but they risk losing some constituencies that voted Remain in the EU referendum.
Tory-held seats such as St Albans and Cheltenham, which supported Remain, could fall to the Lib Dems thanks to their opposition to Brexit. But Ms Swinson’s party could find it harder to regain seats such as St Ives and Devon North from the Conservatives because these constituencies backed Leave, as did much of south-west England.
Labour, meanwhile, could secure some Tory-held seats in poorer areas, such as Southampton Itchen and Hastings and Rye.
Conservative-held Thurrock is a standout constituency for the Brexit party to aim at, given at the 2017 election the UK Independence party, once led by Mr Farage, secured 20 per cent of the vote.
Lab margin: <0.1
Con margin: 0.3
The dividing line in Northern Irish politics has long been between unionist politicians who favour remaining part of the UK and their nationalist counterparts who want a united Ireland.
At the 2017 election, the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin managed to secure all the region’s seats bar one.
Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour party, which are both pro-EU, have agreed an electoral pact for the December election that is expected to increase the pressure on the pro-Brexit DUP, notably in Belfast.
Sinn Féin will be the only nationalist party contesting Belfast North, increasing its chances of ousting Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s leader at Westminster.
The SDLP will fight Belfast South, another DUP-held seat, without a challenge from Sinn Féin.
SDLP margin: 0.4
UUP margin: 1.6
Most marginal seats by targeting party
|Perth and Perthshire North||Pete Wishart|
|Kensington||Emma Dent Coad|
|Dudley North||Ian Austin|
|Crewe and Nantwich||Laura Smith|
|Barrow and Furness||John Woodcock|
|Lanark and Hamilton East||Angela Crawley|
|Ashfield||Gloria De Piero|
|Bishop Auckland||Helen Goodman|
|Oxford West and Abingdon||Layla Moran|
|Westmorland and Lonsdale||Tim Farron|
|Colne Valley||Thelma Walker|
|Stockton South||Paul Williams|
|Edinburgh South West||Joanna Cherry|
|Warwick and Leamington||Matt Western|